By Mary Martin, PhD
There’s a list of things you can do to prevent work-life disasters and create your most resilient self. I just don’t know what’s on The List. The good news is that you do.
The first time a flight attendant told me to put my oxygen mask on before my child’s, if I had one, I remember thinking: Why would I do that? Wouldn’t I want my child to get the benefit of any interventions as soon as possible? What kind of airline sacrifices children for their parents? This is outrageous! These people are savages!
Oh, wait . . . if mom has no oxygen, what good is she to her kid? Got it. As you were.
Fast forward however many years, and here I am, mom to a 3-year old, and expert at putting on my oxygen mask first. Most of the time. My oxygen mask is The List.
Everyone’s List is different. Mine doesn’t include spa days, shopping (for anything), mani/pedis or vacations. Those things are fine; they’re just not my preference. But if I don’t eat well, get enough sleep, regularly meditate, work out daily, and make sure the resident greyhound gets his exercise needs met, I’m impossible to live with and I’m not operating under optimal-parenting/spousing conditions.
I should add work of the paying variety to The List. For my entire adult life, I’ve attached my self worth to my ability to make money. This isn’t a positive trait, and various therapists have explained its origins in my childhood, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’m not hurting anyone, work isn’t some terrible habit I need to replace, and maybe it’s pathetic that I feel this way. I don’t focus on whether I’m pathetic; I focus on what I need to be my best for those around me.
The List consists of needs that are in my control, and I know The List needs attention when:
- my Lumosity score cozying up to a plateau makes me doubt not just my brain power, but everything good thing about my life since the day I was born;
- my run has become more of a shuffle, and the person walking on the opposite side of the street is making better time;
- the thought of preparing a nutritious meal for my family perturbs me deeply and sends me flying to the freezer for an emergency meal-in-a-box;
- a client rescheduling a conference call causes my blood pressure to skyrocket and the immediate drafting of an e-mail that’s not safe for the workplace; or
- my daughter or my husband asks me for help and I want to say: “I have nothing else to give! Do you want my f*cking spleen?”
What I need to be my best for the people and animals who rely on me to care for them is different from what you need. But do you know what you need? What’s your List? What activities or items or services are necessary for you to be at your best at work and at home? It could be just adequate sleep. Maybe you need to exercise more than the average person. Maybe you have to get away once a month, just for a day—or even an afternoon—to recharge. Alone. Or with your BFFs.
In my case, The List isn’t short and takes up a lot of time. Essentially, it describes my life. Not everyone needs that much to keep them balanced; I guess I’m gifted with the ability to instantly fall apart if everything isn’t up to par. Each item on my List feeds me in some way and contributes to my capacity for resilience. At least I know what they are, and I can do something about them.
What’s on your List? Please share your ideas and stories.
Mary Martin, PhD has been writing and editing nonfiction books for 25 years. She lives in South Florida with her husband, their daughter, one retired racing greyhound and one obnoxious cat. Her questionable work-life balance is achieved through constant exercise and meditation. She is the less likable of the Martin sisters.